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Meet John Doe: NeighborWorks offers community-building resources

December 30, 2013

By Paul Gorski

The primary purpose of this column is to offer inspiration, suggestions and resources for community building. For the next few weeks, I will be focusing on organizations that offer community-building advice and resources. One such organization is NeighborWorks America (http://www.nw.org).

NeighborWorks’ (NW) primary focus is affordable housing for all and works to achieve this goal through its network of “235 independent, community-based nonprofit organizations serving more than 4,500 communities nationwide.” The Midwest Region district office is in Cincinnati, and the nearest affiliated nonprofit is Neighborhood Housing Services of Freeport, Inc. NeighborWorks also works to improve lives and strengthen communities with the vision of creating a “nation of vibrant communities all are proud to call home.”

NeighborWorks has a clear mission and strategic plan, with one of its five strategic goals being to advance “comprehensive community development and resident engagement to achieve positive community engagement.” To that end, NW lists community-building resources and suggestions for residents at http://www.nw.org/network/consumers/community.asp. Some of the suggestions are simple, but creative, such as help with translating at community meetings, coordinating neighborhood clean-up efforts with shared trash bin usage and mulch delivery.

Local business and government leaders could learn quite a bit from the long list of reports and studies. NW offers research information detailing strategies for re-vitalizing business districts in urban areas, stabilizing neighborhoods hit hard by foreclosures, and implementing successful “green” initiatives, including green housing development. Search the list of reports at http://neighborworks.issuelab.org/home.

NeighborWorks also offers training and educational opportunities for nonprofit and elected leaders in the areas of: community engagement; nonprofit management; and community and neighborhood revitalization. And that is just a partial list of topics, with many of the courses being offered online. The full course catalog is listed at http://www.nw.org/coursecatalog/. Some local leaders have participated in NW training programs, see:

Rockfordians honored by NeighborWorks America” from July 18-24, 2012, issue.

I’m impressed with NeighborWorks. We have a tendency locally to attempt development initiatives in fits and starts, sometimes with little coordination among all the important players; NeighborWorks has a solid track record of success. In 2012, NW coordinated a direct investment of more than $43 million in housing and community development projects in Illinois alone, serving 8,417 families and individuals. Sounds like NW has some experience in this regard. I’m surprised we don’t have more local organizations with ties to NeighborWorks.

You don’t have to wait for local leaders to learn a few lessons from NeighborWorks ­— visit the links I have listed here. Send them to your friends and neighbors. Do a bit of research yourself, then encourage your local alderman, board member and state representative to review and consider the NW resources. NeighborWorks doesn’t offer solutions for all of our region’s weaknesses, but it does offers resources for improving our community.

Paul Gorski (http://www.paulgorski.com) is a Cherry Valley Township resident who also authors the Tech-Friendly column seen in this newspaper.

From the Jan. 1-6, 2014, issue

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